WASHINGTON – The global die-off of honeybees can be blamed on a mix of factors including parasites and disease, genetics, poor nutrition and pesticide exposure, according to a comprehensive scientific report released by government agencies on Thursday.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a joint media release on the findings, the result of an October 2012 collaboration between various government stakeholders.
At the top of the list of damaging parasites is the varroa mite, which landed on Hawaii Island in 2008 and has been blamed for the reduction of honeybees, along with the Small Hive Beetle which arrived shortly after. The release states:
The parasitic Varroa mite is recognized as the major factor underlying colony loss in the U.S. and other countries. There is widespread resistance to the chemicals beekeepers use to control mites within the hive. New virus species have been found in the U.S. and several of these have been associated with Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).
The media release says increased genetic diversity is needed, which would help the bees improve thermoregulation – the ability to keep body temperature steady even if the surrounding environment is different – as well as disease resistance and worker productivity.
The report makes clear the onus is on beekeepers. “Honey bee breeding should emphasize traits such as hygienic behavior that confer improved resistance to Varroa mites and diseases,” the release states.
The government may have to play a greater role, as well. Citing poor nutrition as a factor in honey bee colony longevity, the result of a lack of forage and plant variety, the report says:
federal and state partners should consider actions affecting land management to maximize available nutritional forage to promote and enhance good bee health and to protect bees by keeping them away from pesticide-treated fields.
The report makes clear the need for better data and information sharing, and is unclear about direct correlations between CCD and pesticides, the popular scapegoat for the bee deaths.
The most pressing pesticide research questions relate to determining actual pesticide exposures and effects of pesticides to bees in the field and the potential for impacts on bee health and productivity of whole honey bee colonies.
Honeybees and other similar pollinators are said to be responsible for an estimated one-third of the global food supply.
Federal officials weighed-in on the findings in the news release.
|Kathleen Merrigan, Agriculture Deputy Secretary
|Acting EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe
In the United States, pollination contributes to crop production worth $20-30 billion in agricultural production annually.
Hawaii Island has started to see some of the effects of the honeybee decline. This video details a recent pumpkin crop failure on Kohala Mountain, and updates the continuing struggle against the varroa mite on the Big Island.
At the federal level, the USDA says the Colony Collapse Steering Committee was formed after the honeybees began to disappear in 2006. the committee is working to update an action plan which will outline major priorities to be addressed in the next 5 to 10 years.
The info comes from the National Stakeholders Conference on Honey Bee Health, which was led by federal researchers and managers, along with Pennsylvania State University. It was convened to “synthesize the current state of knowledge regarding the primary factors that scientists believe have the greatest impact on managed bee health”, the media release stated.
We are providing the executive summary below, but you will have to click on the link to see the entire report: http://www.usda.gov/documents/ReportHoneyBeeHealth.pdf
After news broke in November 2006 about Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a potentially new phenomenon described by sudden and widespread disappearances of adult honey bees from beehives in the U.S., the CCD Steering Committee was formed with the charge to help coordinate a federal response to address this problem. The CCD Steering Committee consists of scientists from the Department of Agriculture‟s (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS), National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Office of Pest Management Policy (OPMP), the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), and also includes scientists from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). At that time, the Committee requested input and recommendations from a broad range of experts in apiculture about how to approach the problem. Out of this, the steering committee developed the CCD Action Plan
Despite a remarkably intensive level of research effort towards understanding causes of managed honeybee colony losses in the United States, overall losses continue to be high and pose a serious threat to meeting the pollination service demands for several commercial crops. Best Management Practice (BMP) guides have been developed for multiple stakeholders, but there are numerous obstacles to widespread adoption of these practices. In addition, the needs of growers and other stakeholders must be taken into consideration before many practices can be implemented.To address these needs, several individuals from the CCD Steering Committee, along with Pennsylvania State University, organized and convened a conference on October 15-17, 2012, in Alexandria, Virginia that brought together stakeholders with expertise in honey bee health. Approximately 175 individuals participated, including beekeepers, scientists from industry/academia/government, representatives of conservation groups, beekeeping supply manufacturers, commodity groups, pesticide manufacturers, and government representatives from the U.S., Canada, and Europe.
A primary goal of the conference was for the CCD Steering Committee to receive input from stakeholders as they consider future actions to promote health and mitigate risks to managed honey bees in the United States. The meeting had three objectives:
1) Synthesize the current state of knowledge regarding CCD, bee pests, pathogens, and nutrition, potential pesticide effects on bees, and bee biology, genetics and breeding; 2) Facilitate the development and implementation of BMPs that stakeholders can realistically incorporate; and 3) Identify priority topics for research, education and outreach to be considered by the CCD Steering Committee for an updated Action Plan.
Dr. May Berenbaum gave the keynote address and provided an overview of the historical and current state of pollinators in the United States, from the invention of the first movable hive frame in 1852 and the first printed reference to non-target impacts of agricultural pesticides on bees in 1891, through the first U.S. detection of the parasitic Varroa mite in 1987 and the more recent colony declines over the past decade. Leaders in apicultural research gave comprehensive presentations of research progress on CCD, bee pests and pathogens, nutrition, pesticides, bee biology, breeding and genetics.
Highlights of Research Overviews: As noted earlier, the views expressed in this report are those of the presenters and do not necessarily represent the policies or positions of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, or the United States Government.
To facilitate discussion of BMPs and development of priorities, stakeholders were formed into work groups centered on the four main issues affecting bee health: 1) nutrition, 2) pesticides, 3) parasites/pathogens and 4) genetics/ biology/ breeding. The most common themes expressed in several breakout groups were:
Although a post meeting survey was not conducted, meeting participants indicated that the conference gave them the opportunity to voice their concerns, to hear the concerns of others, and to offer their perspectives to Federal officials on future directions the government might take to ensure the future of America’s pollinators. The CCD Steering Committee plans to revise the CCD Action Plan, a document that will synthesize this input.
The Action Plan will outline major priorities to be addressed in the next 5-10 years. This plan will serve as a reference document for policy makers, legislators and the public and to help coordinate the federal strategy in response to honey bee losses. Finally, given the depth of issues effecting pollinator health, consideration should be given to renaming this committee to reflect the broader range of factors discussed in this report.